Be honest: Have you ever bought a bunch of groceries on Sunday, thinking you’d whip up meals all week, only to toss half in the trash by the following weekend—because produce wilted, or you didn’t end up eating all the leftovers? You’re not alone. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates Americans are throwing away a third of our food. Considering the billion hungry people in the world, the resources that go into food production, and how overflowing landfills impact the environment, it’s a sad statistic. With such big numbers, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But there are small steps you can take to make a difference globally and locally—like, in your wallet. Take control of the contents of your fridge with these strategies for reducing food waste.
Make a plan, then make a list
Jot down a few healthy ideas for what you want to eat this week. Be realistic about your schedule—if you’re tired or traveling, maybe you’re shopping for three or four dinners, instead of seven. (And leave room for leftovers! More on that, later.) Sketch out a quick grocery list. Maybe you grab one piece of fish, one cut of lean red meat, and one plant protein. The goal is to get just enough for breakfasts and lunches, and a range of fresh fruits and veggies, from perishables that you’ll use right away (mixed greens, bananas) to sturdier options (broccoli, sweet potatoes) that will see you through the end of the week. (Psst: frozen peas and blueberries are just as nutritious as fresh, and last for weeks!)
Shop with purpose
Walking into the store with a list in hand helps keep you focused. You’ll be more likely to follow through on those healthy ideas, and less likely to overestimate how many ingredients you need. Stick to the list, and you’ll be able to resist loading up on sweets, snacks, and impulse purchases near the cash register. You’ll be in and out of the store faster, and save yourself some money (and calories!).
Master chefs are obsessive about labeling food. Many keep a roll of masking tape and a permanent marker in the kitchen—ready to identify leftovers before they take up residence in the fridge. Stash tomorrow’s lunch and other extra meals in clear containers, and tag them with a name and date before they go in the icebox. Do a quick clear-out every week, so items don’t pile up or become hidden. Does your crisper drawer become a pit of despair? Move items up onto shelves, where you can see them. Eat the most perishable produce first, and follow the “first in, first out” rule—eat the old stuff first, and put the new stuff behind it. Keep an eye on expiration dates and sell-by dates, but remember—they’re just guidelines.
Make the Most of your freezer
Things come up. Maybe you get stuck at work, or receive a last-minute dinner invite. The freezer is here for you in your time of need. If you’re worried you won’t be able to cook up a steak or chicken before its expiration date, put it on ice. Chop veggies and spread them out on a baking sheet to freeze, before transferring to a sealed plastic bag. Toss speckled bananas in the freezer to save for the weekend, when you have time for baking projects. Blitz stale bread into breadcrumbs and freeze them in an airtight container.
Reimagine your leftovers
Pack leftovers for lunches, and plan on one “leftovers night” every week. It doesn’t have to feel like punishment! Get creative and work in some fresh flavors, so your taste buds don’t get bored. Try one of these delicious twists:
- Slip slightly overripe fruit into your morning smoothie.
- Whirl leftover roasted veggies into soup.
- Flake fish and toss it in a salad with a zippy vinaigrette.
- Slice red meat and pile it into spicy tacos.
- Shred braises and sink them into a comforting pasta sauce.
- Discover all of the ways you can dig into a pot of beans.
- Or let a roast chicken feed you all week!
Cook with kitchen scraps
In addition to food spoiling, a lot of waste happens on your cutting board. Become a savvy cook and keep an eye on your scrap pile—there’s good stuff in there! Onion, carrot, and celery ends make delicious soups and stocks, as do chicken bones, shrimp shells, and Parmesan cheese rinds. Cilantro stems and carrot tops are surprisingly flavorful garnishes. And you can turn potato peels into a crunchy snack by tossing with olive oil and roasting until crispy.
Take note of what you’re tossing
Mistakes happen. So when you clear out the fridge, pay attention to what ends up in the bin. If you’re throwing away wilted greens, buy half as much next week. If your bread goes stale before you can eat it, put it in the freezer sooner. You’ll be saving money, and doing a little bit of good for the world.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.